The OT Sacrificial System for Inadvertent sins only?
I have never heard a sermon on this subject but I have often wondered about it. The question is resurfacing because my husband and I are currently reading Leviticus.
Starting in Exodus 20, God outlines Israel’s laws and commandments.
It also gives the punishment of those who disobey the laws. For example, lets look at Exodus 21:
1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. 2 "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft. 4 "If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession--whether ox or donkey or sheep--he must pay back double.
16 "If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins. 18 "Do not allow a sorceress to live. 19 "Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. 20 "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed. 21 "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. 22 "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.....
The “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” type of law continues on until the beginning of chapter 23 and then takes a break for the instructions on how to build the Temple.
The Law given to Moses here is simple. Someone sins, he pays. It is a law of justice. God explains what is fair, but no more. He doesn’t give advice for mercy, He only details what a crime is and what is its punishment.
Then, an interesting thing happens in Leviticus. Leviticus begins the process of the sacrificial system. Very specific animals and rituals are to occur for offerings, investiture and communion sacrifices. But here is where it gets interesting. We have always been made to believe that the sin sacrifices were for deliberate sins. It doesn’t really say that in scripture.
Leviticus 4 begins the rituals for sin sacrifices (offerings of expiation and reparation that free you of your sin).
First for the High Priest:
2 "Say to the Israelites: 'When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands-- 3 "'If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.
Then for the entire community:
13 "'If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. 14 When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting. (vs. 26, “In this way the priest will make atonement for the man's sin, and he will be forgiven.”)
Then for Israel’s leaders:
22 "'When a leader sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the commands of the Lord his God, he is guilty. 23 When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering a male goat without defect. ...26 He shall burn all the fat on the altar as he burned the fat of the fellowship offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for the man's sin, and he will be forgiven.
For the individual:
27 "'If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands, he is guilty. 28 When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. ...In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven.
Lev. 5 for the person who sins unintentionally or sins of omission:
1 “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible. 2 "'Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean--whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground--even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty. 3 "'Or if he touches human uncleanness--anything that would make him unclean--even though he is unaware of it, when he learns of it he will be guilty. 4 "'Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil--in any matter one might carelessly swear about--even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty. 5 "'When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned 6 and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.....
15 "When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the Lord's holy things, he is to bring to the Lord as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. ...17 "If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. 18 He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. 19 It is a guilt offering; he has been guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord."
Leviticus then goes on to further explain how each sacrifice is to be done. Later food laws, hygiene laws, clean and unclean laws and additional civil laws are introduced.
There is nowhere I found that gives a sacrifice for deliberate sin. Intentional sins are met with swift justice, not mercy.
So God outlines two systems while Israel is in the desert:
- Laws and punishment for consciously performed acts of breaking that law.
- Sacrifices for sins one did not mean to commit, but are still guilty for.
The sacrificial system in fact, cannot be for intentional sin. God gives us a story right in the midst of all this to prove it.
In Leviticus ten, Aaron and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, had been through the process of the investiture, consecration and were anointed high priests with these same sacrifices. Then, they fell to the temptation to evaded God’s commanded protocol! Against the law, they presented the Lord with unauthorized fire and the “flame leapt out from Yahweh’s presence and swallowed them up.” God killed them instantly. If the sin sacrifice which had been laid out for them as in the above verses for priests or leaders, were for deliberate sin they could have been the first priests to utilize this new system. After all, they could have excused, “We just started this, it is all new. We were just cutting a little corner!” But that is not what happened. Their use of unauthorized fire was intentional, so they received no mercy.
The system wasn’t set up for sins we excuse or were not strong enough to resist the temptation, or we may not have known were really that bad. No, excuses are not even in the equation. The sacrifice was effectual for those who were not aware they were sinning. All other form a line to the left and punishment is doled out.
If the system had been set up for purposes of mercy or for “whoopsies” or for people who were really, really sorry they committed a sin (even if they did know it was wrong) then I doubt scripture would have recorded that Nadab and Abihu’s father, Aaron, would have remained silent. He would have been demanding that his sons get to use the merciful sin sacrifice set up for them!
So, my question is: Am I reading this correctly? Was the OT sacrificial system set up for unintentional sin only?